My own conversion to the Radhasoami faith came in 1970, and I was initiated the following year, aged nineteen. My idea of what I was getting into owed much to popular perceptions of magic and the mystic arts, to science fiction, movies, comic-books like Marvel Comics’ Doctor Strange, and to drugs and hippie culture.
There are several flavours of the Radhasoami faith, and the most central of them, the one most often propounded in the talks that people gave, was the fundamentalist version. In this belief, Sant Mat (the path of the saints) is the only way to God, and the Path must be followed under the guidance of a Perfect Living Master. Perfect Living Masters are incarnated one at a time rather than in parallel, therefore, as ours is the one and only Perfect Master, we are unique: QED. For fundamentalist satsangis, the Master is One with God and thus shares the characteristics of God – omniscience and omnipotence. If the Master is perfect, then everything about him is perfect – his every utterance is Truth, and if his body becomes ill it is because he is graciously taking upon himself the suffering of his disciples. His every evidence of ordinary humanity is similarly rationalised – He is coming down to our level. As with all fundamentalisms, the system is seamless and once its terms are acceded to, it admits no challenges. Any critique is dismissed as mere intellectualism, for the Path transcends the rational mind. Other religions or meditative practices are assigned to lower regions on the inner hierarchy. This dogma allows some satsangis to console themselves with the feeling of belonging to an elite.
I visited the Dera ashram in 1977. It was an emotionally difficult time for me, and I was disappointed by my first sight of the Master, who, though gracious, looked to me like a tired Sikh gentleman. After a few days, I found that part of me had fallen in love with his presence, and I would run to catch merely a glimpse of him as he drove past in his car. Perhaps the doubter who surveyed the scene was undermined by something unconscious, a feeling of awe, a non-rational connection. Perhaps I was swept up in the atmosphere of the crowd, which swelled to half a million for the biggest talk.
Nowhere did I find confirmation of the fundamentalist view. Rather, to me the Master seemed to be impatient with adulation and deference, constantly turning the disciples back on their own resources. In a public meeting, I asked him for advice about parenting, as I was about to become a parent and he had raised three children. He laughed and said that he didn’t know why I had asked him about that, as he had been a complete failure in that regard. He said he had given all his attention to satsang, leaving his children to grow up wild. In a private meeting, I asked him for advice on a painful emotional matter. His reply was short: ‘The answer is absolutely clear, brother. You must simply do whatever you like.’
After weeks of wandering around in a funk of doubt, my spiritual crisis point came sitting alone on my bed in the well-appointed guest room where I had been staying free of charge. The combined scent of Three Roses incense, cement or lime, and my own body, couched in the ubiquitous Indian aroma of grass and dung-chip fires remains with me better than the proportions or any other feature of the room. At the apex of my doubt, I felt as if I had been struck a physical blow on the chest, and I landed with my shoulders and back on the floor while my feet remained on the bed. This posture only became apparent to me afterwards though, for racing through my consciousness was the light of numberless galaxies, forming patterns of indescribable yet poignant lushness. In the centre of this vision was the form of the Master, Charan Singh, and it seemed to me as if he was laughing – merrily and without malice, but also without approval of my plight. After the vision passed, it began to fade and is fading still. It was not an amalgam of memories, for I have never experienced before or since the quality of religious awe that it carried, nor the light, nor a clear visualization of the form of Charan Singh. Without any cognates in the rest of my life or in language, the experience has been pared down over time to a story, a scent, and a certainty that I don’t understand what’s going on.
Each guru or gurini claims to be an imperfect human, a servant doing the will of their Perfect Master, who had only pretended imperfection out of humility. Each guru claims emphatically that Sant Mat is not the only path, while endorsing books and talks which claim the opposite. The trouble with a system that defines its gurus as literally perfect is that you can’t change their perfect writings; so things become set and inflexible, contradictions accumulate and the edifice begins to creak. Unhappy with this fundamentalism, I drifted away from the society of satsangis, but retain my faith in the possibility of the transformation of consciousness.
Baba Faqir Chand (1886-1981) was a guru of the Radhasoami lineage whose succession was confirmed by Sawan Singh and Data Dayãl, Faqir’s own master. Like Maharajah Singh, Jaimal Singh and Sawan Singh, he was a Sant sipahi, a soldier saint, and in an interview conducted in 1978, when he was ninety-two, he described himself as ‘a retired military man.’ He relates an interesting story to explain his position as a guru: already an accomplished meditator, he pestered his master for the truth. He was presented with a coconut and five paisa (pennies) – the symbols of confirmation as a guru himself – and told: ‘The guru will come to you in the form of your disciples.’ Unlike many other Radhasoami gurus, he was instructed by his master to change the teachings. Released from fundamentalist strictures, he proceeded to do exactly that. Faqir Chand’s most significant change was his asser-tion that the inner guru, the Radiant Master, is not the same as the outer, physical person, and further, that the Inner Master is the production of the practitioner’s own mind. To illustrate this, he tells the story of a disciple of his:
There is a student. He says that when he went to the examination hall for a science paper he did not know that difficult paper. He prayed to me. I appeared there, sat under the desk, and dictated the answers to those difficult questions. The student got ninety-eight per cent. The truth is that I myself do not know science, nor did I go to his examination hall.
This is the secret which has been kept so guarded by all the religions. They have kept the people in dark. They have exploited us; they have robbed us; they have cheated us and they have deceived us by saying that they go, whereas they do not go or manifest themselves to anybody. So, from all these experiences, I have come to know that whatever we see in the form of our ideal depends on our own acquired perspective. If one’s mind is pure then the manifested ideal speaks truth. But if one’s mind is not pure, then the answer will be wrong and there is every possibility that the ideal may direct you to the wrong way of life. Now, after long experience of my life, I feel that most of the sages of the past and present, by keeping the secret truth hidden, have been unfair and exploitative. They have taken undue advantage of the ignorance of the people. They have built their own big buildings. They have made air conditioned rooms for themselves.
He is nevertheless hopeful of the possibility of a spiritual and happy life. To him, it doesn’t matter whether the inner and outer teacher are the same – the inner voyage, which is a transformation of consciousness towards the non-dual and not a literal journey, depends on our own inner qualities and not on any external agent.
Sometimes after two or three months when I go into deep meditation … I lose my own entity. I forget who I am. I know nothing about God. I know nothing about my guru and I know nothing about my own self. From all such experience I have come to this conclusion: Who am I? I am a bubble of highest consciousness. I ask myself, what have I attained? Silence in the beginning and silence in the end. Whatever is happening, it is all the Way.
Modern science is proving many old beliefs to be futile. Educated people and scientists will not believe blindly as we did in the past.
You are not helped by any saint or guru, but by your own faith and belief. Live a happy life and don’t spend more than your income. Another thing for a happy life is regular meditation practice without any break. It should be a part of your daily routine like eating and sleeping.
Every one of us is a bubble of consciousness. But there is self. When this self goes away what remains? Silence in the beginning and silence in the end. Pass your life cheerfully.Finally, he commends the practice of assisting those who need help according to one’s capacity and of making daily offerings to crows, feral dogs and the destitute.